The Street Below An auralgraph from Maputo, Mozambique.

Sunday sweeps, morning

I hear the swish. Before my eyes drink in the light, I hear the swish. An orchestra of brooms at play.

Sky burns through the pane. And for one moment, the city rests.

Building sites stop. Buses empty at the rank. Cafes quiet. A lone waitress, bored. School gates still.

Brisk strokes; longer sweeps.

Upturned pavement impossible to walk on, yet meticulously swept.

The revelries of Saturday sink into the sanctity of Sunday. No traffic hums. No laughter from the corner bar. The fruit-seller and his cart abandoned the city.

Only the sw-sw-swish of sweeping.

No Made-in-China brooms here. Instead, palm fronds. Tied together onto a wooden handle whittled by hand, trusted to do the job of cleaning the dirt from the dust.

The finely fallen acacia leaves. The littered plastic.

I have never lived in a city that swept its sidewalks as a ritual. A peculiarity of Maputo, perhaps.

Someone closes a door somewhere.

The air swells.

I can hear the birds.

Auralgraph: Sunday Sweeps, Maputo, Mozambique, 2021. © Zerene Haddad.


The street below, evening

It appears that the peacocks are still around, untouched by events. Rumour has it they are the progeny of a gift from Julius Nyerere to Samora Machel. The gifts of statesmen. In any case, they are the only live music these days. They call longingly to one another, their pleas dying on the edge of daylight, or so it seems. I imagine: they are lovers separated by a big tree.

They say this neighbourhood used to be the area to be. That is what everyone assured me when I was apartment hunting back in early 2020. Street markets. Gastronomical choice. Accessible views. Close to the sea. Did I mention the views? Breakfast at dawn after all-nighters. Peri-peri. The famous barracas of Museo, selling 2M by the quart and blasting music until your head rattled. Plastic chairs and upturned crates. A few barracas remain in the wake of the well-timed municipal purge in lockdown. Whatever else stood, COVID and curfew took care of.

Now it is just another corner in front of the colonial, blue-tiled house, the aroma of freshly-peed urine soaking my nostrils. I hear legendary tales of Afro Jazz bands recklessly spilling tunes onto the pavement from dim doorways, picanha sizzling and desire beading like sweat droplets on skin.

“Ah, you missed the good old days,” I’m told.

Circa 2017 was apparently the peak.

I digress.

The guardas below, huddled over their makeshift board, slam their plastic checker pieces, the harsh sound shooting up the walls, in what can only be a high-stakes game. They are the beatbox to this night.

Someone tells what must be a good joke from somewhere on the street below. The laughter trills down the street, I chase its wake, losing it as it fades to a pianissimo at the corner.

For a Friday night, this is my operatic piece.

Peacocks, checkers, someone else’s jokes and the final percussion of the rubbish truck pulling up at around seven in the evening for the final haul.

Auralgraph: The Street Below, Maputo, Mozambique, 2021. © Zerene Haddad.

Zerene Haddad was born and raised in Zimbabwe and presently lives in Maputo, Mozambique. She is working with an aquaculture enterprise to ensure its social impact remains relevant and contextualised. She studied at the University of Cape Town, Oxford, and the University of Pretoria. Maputo is her 8th home in as many years.

Cover Image: Beazy on Unsplash.